The Pioneer Mountains roadless area
of south central Idaho


The Pioneers are a roughly circular mountain range consisting of many low foothills and a rugged, high, and spectacular core of peaks built of hard igneous and metamorphic rocks (portions are good rock climbing).

Below -- an unnamed peak on the south side of Hyndman Creek. Copyright © Ralph Maughan Unnamed peak. Pioneer Mountains

The highest peak in the Pioneers is 12,009 foot Hyndman Peak. There are many other summits well over 11,000 feet in elevation. The Pioneer Mountain foothills rise directly out of the vast basalt-covered Snake River Plain to the south. The Pioneers lie between the Big Wood River Valley to their west (Hailey, Ketchum), the headwaters of the Big Lost River on their east, and Summit Creek/Trail Creek on their north.

Ralph Maughan on the shoulder of Smiliey Mountain, Idaho
Ralph Maughan on Smiley Mountain (11,500 ft) the high point of southern section of the Pioneers. 

Opposition to wilderness protection comes from the dirt bike and snowmobile crowd, but the biggest abusers of the area are livestock interests.

At the large scale, the Pioneers are a very scenic range, but virtually unregulated livestock grazing occurs. You can often find cows around Idaho's highest lake -- Goat Lake -- in the Pioneers, far above timberline. The worst grazing is one the east side of the range on the Lost River Ranger District of the Salmon/Challis National Forest. Although that ranger district has set aside the spectacular Fall Creek drainage as a cow free zone, things can get pretty disgusting elsewhere. Nevertheless, the Wildhorse wolf pack lived in the Pioneer Mountains from 1999 until 2001, when it dispersed, and was known to have killed but one cow calf.

The Forest Service has long recommended to Congress a wilderness area of about 65,000 acres. Idaho conservation groups seek a wilderness about twice as large, especially including the southern part of the range -- the Smiley Mountain, Iron Bog, Scorpion Mountain area.

Despite the heavy snow and great variations in elevation, there is very little timber in these mountains. The countryside is open, and distant views are easy to find. As the photo shows, pronghorn antelope range from the valley floors to timberline and above.  

Here pronghorn race across the timberline near Scorpion Mountain in the
southern part of the range. The elevation is about 9700 feet. © Ralph Maughan
Antelope near Scorpion Mountain in the Pioneer Range, Idaho

The highest part of the Pioneers is in the northern and north central part of the range -- peaks such as Hyndman, Old Hyndman, Cobb, and the Devil's Bedstead (east and west).

Muldoon Canyon. Pioneer Mountains
Muldoon Canyon in the southern part of the roadless area.
 © Ralph Maughan

Most of this canyon is supposed to be closed to ATVs, but with typical Forest Service lack of enforcement, they are pioneering their way up this beautiful, open, but wet and boggy canyon.

More photos

Visits since Dec. 10, 2004

Pioneer Mountains roadless area, Idaho/ rev. Feb. 23, 2006
Email: Ralph Maughan